Thank the Artist

Art is a hard career. In every career the superstar effect is always present, but in some careers more than others the superstar effect makes or breaks who can just get by to keep their lights on. Art, of most kinds, is one of these.

Art is the ultimate form of self expression, when an artist makes something they are making it for themselves, and if it catches on and people love it, the artist can make a career out of it. There is a famous essay by Kevin Kelly titled A Thousand True Fans, in which he argues that in order to have a sustainable lifestyle as an artist or content creator you shouldn’t focus on going big or going home, but instead focus on building a narrow but deep community of around a thousand people. All you need is a thousand people who love your work and want to help you succeed to keep your lights on as long as you keep producing great content.

I strongly believe that if you find an artist you love, especially ones that speak to you, you should make an effort to let them know how much you appreciate their work. It’s one thing to get paid, but it’s another to personally tell somebody how you feel about their work. One of my favorite pastimes is discovering new musicians and albums, especially small time artists who probably only get a few hundred in income from Spotify or Google Play listens outside of live shows. When I find these artists that really speak to me I not only will share their music across communities like reddit’s Listen to This, but I will personally reach out to them on social media to let them know that their work has personally spoken to somebody today.

Letting somebody know that their work, the work that they put hours, days, weeks or months into has connected to a stranger on a personal level is a reward every creator and artist out there wants. You are letting them know that they are appreciated, and that they have one more fan to add to their thousand true fans. If you find a song you like, a painting you love, a story you just can’t stop thinking of, always remember: thank the artist.


Day 15

Word Count: 383

Cost per Post: $10.39

Make Art Not Marks

As I expressed in my previous essay titled A Wall, A Canvas, I am a huge fan of street art of all sorts, and I am an even bigger fan and supporter of the street art scene in Austin, Texas. But I am also a civil servant employed by the city held responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and happy environment for the city’s residents. As listed in my projects page, one ongoing project of mine is Make Art not Marks, a city wide effort to use murals as a means to battle graffiti on the a two front approach: by occupying the wall with another piece permitted to be there, and by beautifying the city through showcasing local artists. My role as a member of the Make Art Not Marks team is to research and develop programs that can fulfill those two goals.

Murals have been a tried and true proven method of curbing graffiti in highly trafficked parts of the city, especially when they are installed by locally respected artists. Interviews with city officials, nonprofits, artists collectives, and artists have supported this claim. Cities like Philadelphia have pioneered the city wide mural art program through the part city department / part nonprofit Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Philadelphia Mural Arts has been so influential that cities across the country have consulted with them to develop their own mural programs.

I have found through numerous interviews that in order to have an effective mural arts program with the goal of stopping graffiti you must employee local artists who have credibility within the scene. Philadelphia Mural Arts employees around 30% of its staff and art contracts with former graffiti artists. Building a healthy relationship with the local graffiti art scene is important for keeping the community happy. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Employing local artists who have been a part of the community for  a long while to work in areas being gentrified shows that despite the economic changes of the neighborhood that the culture and memories of the past are still there.

Finally, murals just make the streets look better. They give the walls, streets, and neighborhoods a distinct personality. With no two murals ever the same passersby will always be able to know where they are and the stories of the neighborhood. It is my goal in Make Art Not Marks to contribute to this neighborhood beautification and identity programs.

When I tell people that I’m working on this project I always say that I am not anti-graffiti but pro-art. Ever since I moved to Austin I fell in love with the street art scene. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an enormous series of walls built on the side of a hill that anybody can spray on, is a personal favorite spot of mine in Austin. I make an effort to visit the gallery as much as possible to discover new artists and check in on the works of my favorite Austin artists. I firmly believe that having a City of Austin backed program that works directly with the Austin street art scene is necessary for a city that is full of so many talented artists. It is my mission to bring this program to life, and I have the research to back this mission up.


Day 8

Word Count: 550

Cost per Post: $19.49

A Wall, A Canvas

The urban landscape is littered with walls. Walls of brick, concrete, wood, and glass. Each of these walls serving their own purpose. To protect the residents within from the element, to retain soil or water from escaping, to provide an aesthetic finish to the building, or to provide a view out into the city. Within the contents of each wall lies a story worthy of its own book, but one thing not all walls do themselves is tell a story. A wall is an open page for a story that reaches from end to end written in every crack or dent, each story as rich and unique as the wall down the street tells.

I am a fan of the visual arts, as expressed in other posts I am an avid fan of mural art in particular. Mural art or street art has unique flavor to it. Murals give life to lifeless walls, they share stories of the community in which it calls home, street art says the passersby “This is the story I must share, and you’re going to look at it no matter what!”

The walls of Austin, Texas share their own stories. Stories of love, stories of loss, stories of the past, and stories of hope. From simple messages like “I love you so much” or “Hi, how are you?” to an illustration of Pac Man being chased by his eternal ghost nemeses with the caption “Never give up!” To trippy murals of the Eye Doctor, or the quirky parrots of Dribs. Austin is home to some of Texas most talented street artists, each with their own unique style and their own stories to tell.

From commissioned art, to illegal tags, the Austin street art scene is bustling with creative minds looking for a canvas to create on. And with a wall, there’s a canvas of unlimited possibilities.

 Source:  Real Estate in Austin
Source: Real Estate in Austin
 Source:  Timothy McVain
Source: Timothy McVain
 Source: Paul Lowry
Source: Paul Lowry
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself

Day 7

Word Count: 311

Cost per Post: $22.27

The Art of Album Art

Let’s talk about squares. We are all familiar with those simple one-by-one polygons, compared other polygons they are the most searched for shape on google. Why are squares so special? Well there are many reasons why, you can use them for tables, windows, business cards, and websites. What I want to talk about today is my favorite usage of the square shape: album covers.

A simple square framing an album can tell you so much about its contents, from its genre to who the artist is. Unlike books, which tend to be in this state of publisher flux of what’s on the covers, albums seem to be in this eternal state of stagnation. This gives the artist and producers only one chance to capture the essence of the album in on their first go.

Today I want to talk not about albums that already exist, but albums that should exist because of some clever designer that decided to try their hand in album art. This post is an exploration in the stories told through a simple one-by-one square

Each one tells a different story, and I bet you guessed the genre off of the album too. Yeah some are jokes like the “Jeb.” parody of Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.,” or the beaten horse of Loss edits, but that doesn’t take away from the atmosphere each cover provokes. “Hank” has the essence of a solo country album. “Momma Said Knock You Out” by the concussions holds the spirit of hip-hop in it. “Starman” comes off as an electronic heavy album, probably with a lot of synths.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but a picture says a thousand words. Each of these squares, with a little clever editing can tell a whole story inviting you into its world.

More amazing fake album artwork can be found on /r/FakeAlbumCovers.


Day 6

Word Count: 308

Cost per Post: 25.98

Art & Utilities

Working in public utilities has really made my appreciate what cities are: they are a massive habitat for thousands of people to come together and live their lives. Cities bring out the best aspects of humanity: collaboration, innovation, industries revolutionizing the world, creativity and so on. Any aspect of human nature can be amplified by the city in which they live.

Working for the city has made me appreciate the concrete jungle even more than I used to. My job is to deliver the resources you need to make a living right to your door, and if I do it right nobody notices. It’s only if the power fails or a water main busts before you bring attention to my job. As they taught us from day one: we’re public servants, it is our duty to serve you, but that doesn’t mean we have to make an eyesore to get it to you.

My main job is in transmission line engineering, you know those big giant steel poles or lattice towers that are as tall as a five to fifteen story tall building. And maybe it’s just my professions version of the frequency illusion, but I notice transmission lines and even distribution line (the smaller, usually wooden pools) everywhere I go. They’re ugly to look at and utilitarian looking at best, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

One of the best aspects of living within the city are the creative people cities attract. If you live in a significantly large enough city you will find a nice community of artists, especially street artists and muralists. Few cities are beginning to realize that they can unite their artists with their engineers making the city streets into an drive through art exhibit instead of being littered with utility poles and boxes. If the city were the human body, the city departments would be the organs and the artists would be the soul.

The Moon City Creative District in Springfield, MO was the first district I discovered that made an effort to make something more out of their distribution poles. I personally spoke with the lead artist, Linda Passeri, and the lead organizer, Phyllis Ferguson, of their now famous Paint-a-Poll Stroll. And I got some great notes.

Moon City is known to be the creative district within the city of Springfield. It houses dozens of art studios which give the city its unique personality. According to Linda and Phyllis, the two were tired of looking at the wooden poles right outside of their houses, so they decided to do something about it. Without permission from the local utility company, the two took matter into their own hands and decorated two poles. When they were finished, what used to be a wooden splinter became a canvas. They took photos and prepared for their next step: a presentation to the local utility company.

The artful duo scheduled a meeting with the top execs of the City Utilities of Springfield, not afraid to show off their vandalized poles. According to Linda, the execs cut them off halfway through their presentation. The execs were blown away by the idea of making utilities into art and gladly allowed the two to carry out their project.

Linda told me that another motive for the project was to distinguish the neighborhood from the rest of the city, her and Phyllis wanted to leave a message for all passersby saying “Welcome to the most creative part of Springfield.” Apparently everybody else in the district loved the message so much that within two years the neighborhood had over 130 painted poles.

There were benefits other than distinguishing the neighborhood. Traffic passing through is now slower, and safer, as people are checking out the works. The poles were no longer vandalized with graffiti or flyers. The utility company looked great for promoting local artists. Residents began taking pride in their neighborhood (Phyllis even was voted on to city council after she lead the project). And, when Pokémon Go was all the rage the poles became Poke Stops or gyms.

Moon City is just one of many cities that are working to unite engineers and artists. Through my research I found out that the inspiration for Moon City began in Canada at the Fernwood art district in Victoria, BC. Houston, TX has their own project of decorating traffic light control boxes called Mini Murals. Orlando, FL has an multi-neighborhood project encouraging neighborhoods to enlist the help of local artists to decorate everything from walls to dumpsters.

We should take pride in our cities, and there’s no better way to do that than giving the streets a bit of personality with the help of the local artists. Municipal governments, especially their utility branches, should embrace these creatives and provide them with the funding and tools to make a pole more than a pole, or turn a substation wall into a mural. We need art on the streets.